Picture this: It's 1996. The world is in its unipolar moment, the internet is young and interesting, and human hearts are still warmed by the recent memory of the greatest piece of television ever to air: Frasier's "My Coffee With Niles" episode from two years prior.
These are the honeyed, sunlit days when Home Safety Hotline—the demo for which is now available in Steam Next Fest—takes place. A minimalist, lo-fi horror that sets you about providing phone support for homeowners as they contend with mice, mould, mildew and other mundane problems that my landlord ignores, HSH gradually escalates until you're trying to help frantic callers with house fae, squamous demons, and the otherworldly secretions oozing from their desk drawers.
I can't think of a better way to describe it except as a kind of 'dial-a-witcher' game. But instead of you having to make your way over to peasant villages and do the messy work of monster removal, you just give people (some of) the information they need and wish them luck.
It's a quick demo at around 20 minutes or so of playtime, but it's stuck with me. The vibes really are dead-on. You interact with the game via a whining, emulated 4:3 CRT monitor, taking calls and leafing through the Home Safety Hotline's internal documentation system to figure out just which genre of horrifying ordeal your client is currently dealing with. Sometimes it's termites, sometimes it's the ichorous discharge of the underworld. Mondays, am I right?
Gameplay is limited, at least in the demo. All you're really doing is taking a call, listening to someone bug out at you for 30 seconds, and then trying to find a page in your virtual handbook that matches the symptoms they describe. There's not much to it, but as a tone piece it makes me intrigued about what's to come whenever the full game releases.
Every caller has a perfect Coast To Coast AM style oddness to them, and that's before you get to figures like "Buzz Goober," a man whose caller ID image is a kind of cut-out ransom-note collage of mismatched body parts.
They're fun and creepy in equal measure, and when they inevitably call back to complain after you give them a tried-and-true recipe for dealing with moles when they've very clearly just described an infestation of Common Hobbs it's almost more rewarding than giving them the right answer.
As it stands, I don't think this demo's relatively short and repetitive gameplay loop could hold up a full game of Home Safety Hotline, but I'm hoping the dev has more tricks up its sleeve. The Next Fest version of the game cuts off long before you've unlocked every entry in your reams of documentation, and just as your calls are starting to get evermore unhinged. I still haven't found out what "metamorphosis" is, or why nearly every bit of documentation I have is so desperate to avoid it. Perhaps I'll figure it out when the full version releases at some point in the to-be-confirmed future.